Georgia Mayor Blasts Governor for Reopening State's Beaches During Pandemic: Health of Our Residents 'Being Put at Risk'

A mayor in Georgia has condemned the state governor's decision to reopen beaches as the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow, vowing to fight the order legally.

The city council of Georgia's Tybee Island, a tourist hotspot, on March 20 voted to close the area's beaches as it shut down the area to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The town put up signs and barricades to block would-be beachgoers from disregarding the local mandate.

But Georgia's Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, overturned the beach closure with his executive order for his state's residents to "shelter in place." Although Kemp's executive order enforced stringent stay at home measures, it also reopened all beaches that had been closed by local mandates.

Brian Kemp
Brian Kemp attends the Election Night event at the Classic Center on November 6, 2018 in Athens, Georgia Kevin C. Cox/Getty

"Tybee City Council and I are devastated by the sudden directives and do not support his decisions. The health of our residents, staff and visitors are being put at risk and we will pursue legal avenues to overturn his reckless mandate," Shirley Sessions, the city's mayor, wrote in an official statement to the press on Saturday.

"As the Pentagon ordered 100,000 body bags to store the corpses of Americans killed by the Coronavirus, Governor Brian Kemp dictated that Georgia beaches must reopen, and declared any decision-makers who refused to follow these orders would face prison and/or fines," Sessions noted.

Kemp appeared to push back against criticism with a Saturday tweet, which included photos of empty beaches at Tybee Island. "Beachgoers are mostly locals and complying with social distancing orders. We will continue to monitor conditions," the governor wrote.

Georgia was one of the last states in the country to announce a stay-at-home order this past week. Kemp announced his decision to implement the order last Wednesday, but it is only set to remain in place until April 13. The governor also drew criticism for saying he wasn't aware that asymptomatic people could infect others with the novel virus.

"Finding out that this virus is now transmitting before people see signs, so what we've been telling people from directives from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] for weeks now that if you start feeling bad, stay home ... those individuals could've been infecting people before they ever felt bad," Kemp said. "But we didn't know that until the last 24 hours .... this is a game changer for us."

Health experts and doctors have been warning people for weeks that asymptomatic individuals could still infect others, even if they never felt unwell themselves. Numerous prominent people, including GOP Senator Rand Paul, who became the first member of the Senate to test positive for the virus, have said publicly that they had not experienced any symptoms.

.@GaDNRLE and @ga_dps reported light traffic at Lake Lanier today. Visitors were not allowed to congregate. Law enforcement patrols checked regularly for compliance with the order. Thanks to everyone for doing their part! #COVID19

— Governor Brian P. Kemp (@GovKemp) April 5, 2020

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a former Democratic presidential candidate, strongly criticized Kemp for being unaware of the advice of health experts and doctors. She argued that former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams would have handled the pandemic much differently.

"If they had better election laws Stacey Abrams would be governor of Georgia," Klobuchar tweeted. "Brian Kemp's negligence could cost Americans thousands of lives."

As of Sunday morning, more than 6,300 people had tested positive for coronavirus in Georgia. Of those, 208 have died. Nationwide, more than 312,000 people have contracted the virus, while more than 3,500 have died.